Reflections from Guatemala

Passage: John 4:1-42
Date: February 19, 2017
Preacher: Guest Preacher
Guest Preacher: Kathryn Moran, Sue Butell, and Jane Kurtz

Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3


From Kathryn Moran

Good morning! My name is Kathryn Moran and I am the Community Engagement Coordinator here at Westminster. Part of my responsibility is to facilitate three mission trips during the three years of my position, and this was our first.

Traemos muchos saludos y mucho amor de la iglesia presbiteriana de Guatemala! We bring you greetings and lots of love from the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala! We had an amazing ten days listening to stories of daily life and intense struggle, walking with strong and courageous women leaders and experiencing life in Guatemala.

We traveled in order to see the work of Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer, Presbyterian social workers whom our church has supported for the last several years. Brian and Sandi have lived there for almost four years and will be there two more years. Their primary job is to support women’s leadership development in the Presbyterian Church. They are from the Pacific Northwest and, like Beth and Gregg, are also a couple sharing a ministry position.

Brian is super enthusiastic and energetic, and he has a passion for justice and for advocating for the rights of indigenous people in Guatemala. He is also working on a program to help the men do their own reflection and make space for and share power with their sisters in the church.

Sandi is more quiet and has a kind and generous spirit. She has been coming to Guatemala for fifteen years, facilitating workshops on domestic violence. We learned that these workshops are run with a similar model to our Stephen Ministry program – focused on listening with deep respect, creating a safe and confidential space to share and receive support.

It was very clear that Brian and Sandi are deeply loved and trusted by the Guatemalan people that we met and that they provide valuable emotional support, community building, and training. They also model an equal and respectful partnership in marriage.

The primary reason for our trip was to deepen our relationship with Brian and Sandi and with the women whom they support and encourage. We visited four Presbyterian churches, two very different seminary programs, two women’s weaving cooperatives, one health clinic, one coffee farm and one micro-loan program. We were received with incredible love and with open arms and open hearts everywhere we went.

We supported the Guatemalan economy by bringing back many beautiful handmade scarves, shawls, bags, ponchos (like this one), and more.

On Friday, February 10, we spent the day with the Maya Quiche Presbyterian Women’s Association. Maya Quiche is one of the indigenous-people groups in Guatemala. We met at the Gethsemane Presbyterian Church in a town called Cantel. As we arrived that morning, we moved the pews to form a circle and introduced ourselves, sharing about our families, our leadership positions in the church, and involvement in choir or Stephen Ministry, as well as our secular jobs. We listened while the Guatemalans did the same and we found many commonalities in our joys and challenges. There were several Maya Quiche women who are ruling elders and deacons in their churches, which is a great accomplishment and shows their dedication and persistence.

After our time of sharing our lives, the Maya Quiche leaders presented us with this beautiful banner. Today we would like to present it to you, our church family.

One additional special memory from that day:

After the women presented the banner to us, a sweet young girl named Sarita came forward. She was three or four years old and was dressed in her beautiful, colorful, traditional indigenous dress. She carried a basket and said she also had something for us. She was the only child in the room and yet she walked confidently around our circle handing each one of us a handmade worry doll. Here is mine. A worry doll is an indigenous tradition – you can hold it in your hand or set by your bed and hand over your worries to the doll before you go to sleep.

In many ways, Sarita’s courage, strength, and generosity was symbolic of what we saw in every church group and every community program.

On this day and every other day of our trip, the Guatemalan people captured my heart with their deep love, inner strength, resilience, warmth, and smiles. Thank you very much for this opportunity to share! I would like to invite Sue Butell to share next.

From Sue Butell

Buenas dias! Como ésta?

Well sadly, this as far as I got with my Spanish, which I forgivingly attribute to the overwhelming yet life-changing experiences I had in Guatemala. What I’d like to share with you is the sensory reflective exercise led by our new friends, Sandi and Brian. Although Sandi sheepishly said we might find the questions a little silly, the exercise provided a meaningful way to bring closure. The responses I share are but a small yet rich sampling from our twelve-member group. I hope you will now learn more about what this trip meant to us.

This is what our ears heard that we would never forget:
•    The heartbreaking struggles during and after their civil war
•    Loud, enthusiastic singing in churches, despite tonal deafness
•    Strong expressions of faith
•    Devotion to church and community despite long days at work
•    Struggles women face every day, especially domestic violence
•    Singing of our own group
•    Whispered individual prayers during formal prayers

This is what our eyes saw that we will never forget:
•    Beautiful indigenous clothing
•    Women washing clothes in the lake
•    Spectacular volcanoes
•    Joy in the faces of women despite being poor and oppressed
•    Warm greetings and hugs to each other and us
•    Beautiful hand-woven scarves

From our head, these are the principle ideas that have stuck with us:
•    Allow the Holy Spirit to move us into action
•    Build relationships from the heart
•    Don’t let fear hold you back
•    Listen deeply before speaking
•    Do things with rather than for
•    Never give up
•    Help people help themselves
•    We’re better together

This is what our heart felt that caused us joy:
•    Worshiping in Spanish
•    Prayers
•    Children playing
•    Singing
•    Deeper relationships with our group
•    Presenting a workshop to support women’s leadership in churches
•    Connecting with women over our needlepoint project
•    Warm and loving greetings at every visit
•    Coffee, coffee, coffee

These are the smells that will remind us of Guatemala:
•    Beans cooking
•    Bread baking
•    Coffee blossoms
•    Diesel fumes
•    Blue corn tortillas
•    Wood smoke
•    Wool blankets

These are the tastes of Guatemala we will never forget:
•    Papaya smoothie
•    Pepian sauce
•    Eggs with plantain
•    Blue corn tortillas
•    Black beans
•    Hot salsas
•    Coffee
•    Coffee
•    Coffee

You’ve heard through our senses what we will never forget. The following are intentions we have for moving forward:
•    Reflect on our own personal call
•    Share our stories
•    Find ways to fight for immigrant rights in the U.S.
•    Explore ongoing ways Westminster can partner with Guatemalans
•    Return to Guatemala to serve in health clinics
•    Wrap immigrant-rights themes into the summer mission trip
•    Challenge racism in the U.S. – offer workshops
•    Work on poverty issues at home
•    Learn more Spanish
•    Find a way to make a difference with a more global perspective
•    With God’s help, be more thankful for what we have

Bringing closure to our experiences in Guatemala through this sensory exercise was a wonderful and meaningful way to end our visit. I hope you will now have a greater understanding of what this journey meant to us and I hope that together, we will find a way to support and empower especially the women of Guatemala.

From Jane Kurtz

We wish we could zip you to Guatemala to hear the voices of people who touched us there, but since we can’t, this morning I will bring some of their words to you. The first are from a woman who was part of the long conflict in Guatemala that was partly about just treatment of the Mayan people. (We heard a proverb while we were there that says the Mayan are only water for the fish to swim in.)

Maria Tullia learned about both injustice and determination in school when her teacher said to the class, “It’s too bad. You could have been teachers or doctors, but this is the end for you.”

She said, “No. This is not the end for me.”

Some years later, she did leave school to join the opposition to the military, learning to serve as a nurse and a radio technician and writer for broadcasts sent from within a volcano.  When peace accords were signed, she went back to school. In the end, studying to become a psychologist made her “dizzy with learning.” It was hard, she said, but not impossible.
We asked if reconciliation had truly come and she said no—not for her and not for the country. But her face was one of those Sue mentioned: full of joy. “If I’m sad all the time,” she said, “I will die.”

Next, hear some of the words of one of the first women pastors in the Guatemalan church:

My father raised me to be a leader, and at some point I said to myself, God did not call you just to be a Sunday School teacher. It is not in my heart to be changing diapers or arranging flowers all the time.

But I didn’t see any women higher than deacon. I went to seminary to find out what was possible.

Some of the professors said, “You know your position when you leave here—pastor—is not possible for you.”

I said, “Well, then I came to be the best Sunday School teacher I can be.”

When she was finished with school, she did get a chance to talk to a church about becoming their pastor. “I said, ‘They’ll eat me alive and after they eat me alive, they’ll say no.’ To my surprise, they had a decision in ten minutes. 75% of the church said yes.”  

Kathryn told you about the health clinic we saw, and the woman who worked with great persistence on that project explained that as they were starting it up, “We hoped all the churches in this community would help, but they said ‘oh what we need here is the goodness of God, the reign of God.’”

Keep her words in mind as you listen to Pastor Osmundo’s life as a Presbyterian pastor in Guatemala.

When  he was 20, people gave him a child to pray over and the child died. “The people converted me,” he said. “They changed my mind and changed my eyes. When I realized the pastor belongs to the people, I began to walk with Partner Jesus, Brother Jesus.”

Here are his words of comfort and challenge to us:
Be compañeros to us.
Pray for us.
Spend some time with us.
And now you have the opportunity to be a new people, a new nation.
Go down with my shoes.
Don’t have fear. Be with hope.
The church preaches only God is good. Yes. God is good. We need people to become good.